In the previous sections, we have discussed the modes of delivery and effective communication in ODFL classes. Now we will focus on who will deliver and communicate – teacher presence.
Your presence as a teacher in your online class should help to decrease any uncertainty the learners may feel in terms of course expectations, understanding where they are in their learning, and communications. Designing online courses around the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework can lead to increased interaction with and between students and help to create a meaningful and engaging learning environment.

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) model illustration below describes how learning takes place for a group of individual learners through the educational experience that occurs at the intersection of social, cognitive, and teaching presence. According to Garrison, Anderson & Archer (2010), it is through the skillful marshalling of these forms of presence that online academic staff and students, in collaboration, develop a productive online learning environment through which knowledge is constructed. Teaching presence is defined in three different elements: design, facilitation, and direct instruction. The purpose of cognitive and social processes is to realise personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes. This direction comes from the instructor and, as appropriate, from the students.

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Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. Adapted from Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2010.

Teaching presence includes both the planning and forethought that go into building your course and what you do “in the moment” when interacting with your students. The parts of teaching presence that occur while the course is in session include facilitation of discourse and direct instruction.

Designing the course is like a curator in a museum who locates the best artifacts to create an effective experience for those who visit. As a teacher, you will guide the learners towards readings and other learning materials that will serve the learning goals. Based on your experience in your field, you can help the learners focus their attention on learning resources that are accurate and relevant.

Direct instruction is the more straightforward aspect of teaching presence and would include pre-developed presentations, assessing student work and providing instructive feedback, diagnosing misconceptions, clarifying concepts, and referring students to additional resources or practice opportunities.

Facilitating discourse is more than simply requiring students to post to a discussion and reply to others. It involves regularly reading and providing feedback on student postings, encouraging participation, moving the discussion forward when it stalls or gets off track, identifying and drawing out areas of agreement and disagreement, pointing out linkages, and helping students articulate shared understandings. Immediacy behaviours can be helpful when facilitating discourse. Things like referring to students by name, encouraging student-student conversation, sharing personal examples from your own research, travel, or conversations with other faculty contribute to both social and teaching presence.

Maintaining Teacher Presence

  • Let your students see you as a real person.

It is important to stay present throughout the course – not just at the beginning of the semester. Maintaining continual instructor presence during the course, particularly when the activity becomes dull, keeps students motivated and engaged. Students need the structure and leadership of your active teaching presence to move from surface learning to a deeper level of engaged learning. This can take the form of:

  • defining clear expectations for student work and interactions,
  • selecting and sequencing manageable sections of content,
  • facilitating discourse with engaging questions and challenges to test understanding, as well as by modelling appropriate contributions to the discussion,
  • structuring both collaborative and individual activities that are aligned with desired learning outcomes, and
  • assessing learning at a deeper, more complex level and providing feedback on learning processes.
  • Students are eager to hear and learn from you. Include some form of original lecture material (e.g., pre-recorded video, narrated PowerPoints, or lecture notes) and/or guidance (e.g., blog posts, short audio/video segments, worked examples, etc.).
  • Create 5-to-10-minute mini-lectures that focus on individual concepts (labelled appropriately so students can find them easily for study purposes); this duration fits with attention spans, connectivity limits, and variability of students’ viewing time. If a video is longer, listing sub-topics with timestamps may be helpful. Also, keep in mind that a typical 50-minute period does not equate to 50 minutes of instruction.
  • Make connections clear between course learning outcomes, topics, and approaches presented in lectures to help students structure their attention. Remember to include lecture or written material or an activity to help students see how the various course concepts fit together as they may miss those connections when learning from short, discrete chunks.
  • Highlight good work habits for students, e.g., taking breaks when listening to lectures to summarise their notes and identify questions to ask or post.
  • Engage in dialogue. In the face-to-face classroom, the teacher talks to the learners: he/she will explain the goals of a particular lesson, introduce topics, ask questions and answer them, guide learners through difficult topics and ideas, give feedback, and motivate and encourage the learners. ODFL students are also as much in need of this ongoing dialogue as the students sitting in the face-to-face classroom. The following video provides some useful tips on increasing student engagement in ODFL environments [watchtime: 4 mins].

By Sheila MacNeill (Heriot-Watt Learning and Teaching Academy)

Universal Design for Learning Framework for Inclusive and Equitable Communication

Teachers need to keep the diversity of students in mind when designing courses. Students vary greatly in their interests, family situation, culture, background, experience, strengths, and weaknesses. And all students benefit when educational materials are designed to be accessible and inclusive. Other things that may affect a student’s access include:

  • The presentation, format, and structure of information
  • Day-to-day life and personal responsibilities
  • Access to technology and the internet
  • Unfamiliar or complex technology

Ultimately, by being proactive and intentional about the design of your course, you will be able to improve the learning experience for all your students. And that is something that Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help with.

The UDL framework outlines guidelines for how instructors can create inclusive and accessible learning environments for students. It consists of three principles: Multiple Means of Engagement, Multiple Means of Representation, and Multiple Means of Action and Expression.

The following video explores the UDL framework. Watch the video to learn how you can apply the UDL framework to help you design your course (Watchtime: 6 mins).


Teacher presence in ODFL classes is a crucial factor to generate students’ interest and keep them actively engaged in the course. We must not overlook the fact that ground rules for students’ engagement in ODFL courses must be set from the very first day for a healthy online learning environment for all learners. Course netiquette (covered in the next section) will ensure proper conduct during online activities, especially on discussion forums, chats and other online collaborative tasks.